Friends don't threaten friends. But our president makes a habit of it -- whether he was dealing with Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu in the Middle East not long ago or with those Britons who would like to leave the European Union now. If they prevail, he warned, Britain will be sent "to the back of the queue" when it comes to trade or aid in the future. That's English for the back of the line.
It is the essence of a sound foreign policy to reward your friends and punish your enemies. For it is far better to be feared than beg to be loved. Barack Obama has reversed that old and prudent guide time and again. Ever since he began his presidency with all those apology tours of his. Now, even while he's easing trade restrictions on the mullahs in Iran, he's threatening to tighten them on the British if they don't vote his way in today's referendum on whether to leave the European Union or stay -- and be governed from Brussels. Which choice do you think any self-respecting nation would make?
Our president has long seemed to resent the "special relationship" this country has enjoyed with the British, and he may now see his chance to end it. Fat chance. Since the British, as attached to their independence as we Americans are, won't be bullied.
Barack Obama's bullying not only flies in the face of sound strategic thinking, but ignores the long history of mutual support that has united Americans with the mother country through many a crisis in the past. To quote Andrew Roberts, the British historian: "Was my country at the back of the line when Winston Churchill promised in 1941 that in the event of a Japanese attack on the U.S., a British declaration of war on Japan would be made within the hour? Was Great Britain at the back of the line when America was searching for allies in the Korean War in the 1950s? ... Were we at the back of the line on 9/11, or did we step forward immediately and instinctively as the very first of your allies to contribute troops to join you in the expulsion of the Taliban, al-Qaida's hosts, from power in Afghanistan?"
Again and again this country's special relationship with the British has served both peoples well. Whether in both world wars or the Cold War that followed. And for what it's worth, which is a lot, our economic ties with Britain, our largest trading partner, are as strong as our diplomatic and military ones.
Finally, writes Mr. Roberts, "Imagine if a bunch of accountants had turned up at Valley Forge in that brutal winter of 1777 and proved with the aid of pie-charts and financial tables that Americans would be better off if they just gave up the cause of independence. George Washington would have sent them on their way with a few short, well-chosen words on the subject -- probably derived from the Anglo-Saxon." For in addition to sharing English common law, we also share a common language, and a common attachment to freedom and self-government.
Today a lot of Britons, like a lot of Americans, may just want their country back. Rather than have the European Union, the United Nations or any other polyglot assemblage presume to govern them. There's no surer way to stir up old John Bull than to threaten him. By trying to bully the British, our president may succeed only in uniting them -- against him.
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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.